Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

PACs, lobbyists, and influence in State Government

The Tennessean takes a look at the interplay of political action committees, lobbyists, and influence in State government. I find myself agreeing with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey with respect to influence and transparency:

He said he knows the public perceives these contributions as influencing him, but said that perception defies the logic of how the system works. He receives contributions from groups that agree with his voting philosophy, which is conservative and pro-business. If groups wanted to try to influence him to change his voting pattern, he said, he'd be receiving contributions from union PACs, which he does not.

"I'm for full disclosure and transparency and you let the people decide," Ramsey said. "You can pick something to death until the cows come home."

OK, I'll bracket the cow reference made so soon after the whole Dolores Gresham controversy, but I had to mention it. Hopefully without objection, Mr. Speaker. But back to the matter at hand...

Honestly, if money in itself bought influence, every gay business person in Tennessee would be pouring money into state legislative races and we wouldn't have had half the fights we've gone through since 2004. But we know that's not how it works. You give to candidates who are probably pretty well already on your side. You're funding campaign staff, yard signs, commercials, and so on so they can get into office or get reelected. And if it turns out they don't support you, well, you probably don't contribute the next time around or endorse them or send them volunteers.

Then there's the phrase "special interests" that appears in the article. It always reminds me of the phrase "special rights" that is thrown at us every time we try to access to jobs, housing, family protections, etc. Why on earth is it bad when groups of citizens band together to advocate for a cause? We spend so much time emphasizing voting in this country, often to no avail with the exception of this election and a few others. We've set the bar way too low. Voting ought to be considered the bare minimum. What if in civics classes we emphasized the importance of joining associations? I guarantee that if you're active in an association, you're going to vote. Why don't we teach high school students that if they care about labor, business, the environment, GLBT rights, family values, education, poverty, or whatever that there are groups they can support? And I'm not talking about the charitable/educational 501c3s out there. They're great and they deserve our money and volunteer time, but they don't initiate people into political participation.

As it stands, the lone voter hasn't heard of most of the organizations that are shaping legislation at the local, state, and federal levels. Those who join and participate have.

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